Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The passport story - day 2

Dear Arjun and Anirudh,

In a way, it wasn't that bad. If you were not twins, I wouldn't have avoided going to the embassy for the second time. Other than that, I didn't have anything else to calm myself. I have wasted 9 hours waiting for nothing.

After reaching home, I immediately opened their website. I had to continue my cursing for asking those useless self attested copies without mentioning it in the website. Surprise, surprise! By the time I reached home, they have already updated their website. It clearly mentions about the self attested photo copies for the passport application now! How can that happen. I clearly remember going through that at-least thrice. Selective reading! I can read only what I wanted to read. The concept of the self attested photocopy with originals has become so alien to me that I couldn't notice that even after going through it multiple times. Whom should I blame now? The officer who was blindly following the procedure without any concession? The age old policy itself? Or my blindness due to preconceived notions?

I went to the embassy again after two days. Same routine. Get up early in the morning, travel to London, stand in the queue in biting cold for 2 hours. Wait for one more hour inside the embassy. Finally my turn came. I had to avoid the person with whom I had already had a big fight. I can't trust these people. Even if all the documents are fine, they can still find ways of harassing. Luckily, I didn't had to do anything to avoid him. I gave all the documents one by one. I was an expert in this process now. Everything got finished in just 10 minutes!

I came out of the embassy happily and took a tube to Hounslow, where I had parked my car. That is close to an hour journey. It was off peak time, so it wasn't that crowded. I got a seat to sit. After sitting, I really wished I hadn't! In-front of me, there was a lady of Indian origin. I think she was somewhere between 30-35. For an Asian origin, her dress was irritatingly liberal, exposing her thunder thighs! I was in a fix. How can I be normal? If I just look straight, I will be only looking at her. In normal situations that is fine. But with her extra liberal revealing dress, it was difficult. If I don't look at her at all, that will look too odd. I didn't even had a book to pretend reading something. It was really irritating, but I tried to be as normal as possible, as if I wasn't bothered with her dress at all.

All of a sudden, her face turned red with anger and she got up and charged towards me. 'You old bastard, what are you doing, what are you looking at', she screamed at the top of her voice. I was completely nervous and my face turned white in shame! I was certainly not peeking at her thunder thighs! Well, that is not entirely true. Unless you were making some effort, you will be looking only at her thighs! Did she misunderstood me if I had accidentally looked at her revealing dress? Even if I did, why would she really get so upset. Obviously she has dressed up like that for others to see.

'Show me your phone, show me your phone' she shouted and reached towards me. And then, she tried to snatch the phone from the person sitting next to me! I was relieved! Apparently the person sitting next to me was using his phone to take her photos or videos. She saw the reflection of the phone screen from the train window and understood what he was getting at. I knew he was constantly looking at the phone but didn't realize he had the courage to do that so openly. He looked like a silent person of asian origin aging between 40-50.

Her mother was also there and both of them started scolding him with all the beautiful words in their vocabulary. I could never imagine me scolding anyone with that language. Anyways he deserved it. She even hit him twice in the attempt of grabbing his phone. He constantly refused that he didn't take any video. But it was very obvious to everyone as what he was doing. That is the reason he couldn't give his phone to check the same. Both mother and the daughter continued their abuses threatening him to call the police. I was in a dilemma now. Should I continue to sit next to this peeping Tom or should I move to a different place? I couldn't decide anything quickly. They would have continued with their scolding for some more time, but their stop came next and they had to get down the train. Just before getting down the old lady uttered another abuse. 'I pray to god that your daughter gets raped terribly'!

What! What the %*£# are you talking? Why are you bringing his daughter to this issue. Why should she get punished for her fathers fault? By the look of her, I was sure she would have enjoyed seeing that horrible act. Now I was in a bigger dilemma. Who is the lesser evil of these two people? The guy who took a secret photo of the lady exposing herself or the lady who wished his daughter pay the price for the mistakes of his father! How can a lady who can't withstand her daughter getting illegally photographed, withstand someones innocent daughter getting raped? How shame it is to be an elderly women without being compassionate to another women. The sayings are definitely true, women are their own worst enemies. It is certainly not the first time I am witnessing that, sadly. Anyways, she at-least solved my first dilemma. There was no need for me to change the seat!

I got your passports after a week. They were also supposed to send a document about the birth certificate, which never came. I didn't have the patience to call the embassy to track that. I just hoped I will never need that document. Between, here is your passport. Even I can't believe that is really yours, but certainly it is!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The passport story - day 1

Dear Arjun and Anirudh,

You know that your first 17 days were spent in the special care unit at hospital. After you came home, there was some pressure on me to get your passports sorted as quickly as possible. Our family members were really sceptical about our ability to take care of you without their support. I wasn't paying much attention to their concern, so dragged it to 3 more months. But we couldn't drag that further as we had to book our flight tickets for your first India visit.

Apparently, getting the Indian passport is as tough as getting the UK visa. That is probably true for any work that needs to be done at Indian embassy or any other government office. I wasn't that sure whether it is really that difficult or people feel it that way after getting used to UK culture. I didn't want to risk much, so talked to one of my friends who had gone through the pain fairly recently. Based on the inputs from him, I went to Indian embassy site, downloaded and filled all the forms. Taking the photo was a challenge, especially when you want to save some money and want to avoid going out to a photo booth in the winter. So, I started taking your passport photo myself. There are quite nice websites which helps you in creating the passport size photos for a fraction of the money that you pay for the professionals. But taking the photo was a bit of challenge as you were just 3 months old. You still needed head support and having a clean white background masking the supporting hand wasn't really that easy. Somehow we managed to get some acceptable photos meeting the requirements. If you didn't like your first passport photo, please don't blame me. With all the effort, I couldn't make you look any batter!

Indian embassy in London is truly committed to give the feel of India to everyone coming there. So, they haven't implemented any appointment system. Based on the suggestions, I went there fairly early in the morning. I had to start at around 5:30 to reach the queue at 7:30AM. I am not used to getting up early and to the horrible early morning cold. There were already 15 people in the queue before me. We had to wait for close to 2 hours to get the token number. They have also retained our culture of making every official process purposefully complicated. To get the passport, we first had to register your birth at the embassy as a separate process paying separate fee. After that I had to go out looking for a photocopy shop to get some documents photo copied and then to a post office to get a return envelop. I have no idea why it needs to be so complicated.

After that, I went to the passport counter. But my token number was already been called as it was more than an hour in the registration section. I managed to submit my forms ignoring their call based on the token number. There were only two counters for passport service. When I submitted my forms to the officer, his look was typical of a strict school teacher. A teacher who knows that the student has copied his homework without even checking it. I submitted two forms together, to get some sympathy. I was used to get sympathy everywhere I go because of you both. People here really understand the pain of bringing-up new born babies. When it is double, the trouble is also double, as well as the attention and sympathy. However, I was in the counter of Indian embassy. A nation having more than a billion people. A nation where it isn't manly to understand the pain of bringing-up new born babies. Of-course, I can't expect them to understand that I may not have had good sleep for days and needed some courtesy. I can only blame my eyes or spectacles for masking my tiredness of sleep deprivation. Even if it was evident, I would have been grateful if they haven't mistaken that for a hangover. Anyways, after giving two forms, I obediently took one back as he ordered me to submit one at a time. He looked at all the documents, wrote down few things and then asked for the photo copies. I was fairly sure everything was fine. Of-course I had already talked to my friend and looked at their website several times. Then he asked 'where is the signature on the photo copy'?

What? Signature on a photo copy. Dude, I have given you all the originals. Why do you need a self attested photo copy when you can verify that from the originals itself? If you really needed a self attested photo copy, why don't you mention that clearly in the website. You didn't ask for a self attested copy for the same document that I had submitted earlier for the birth registration. But I knew there is no point in arguing about the useless process with them. That will only ignite their ego without any benefit for me. So, I said I will get the signature and come back. I took the token back as I won't be able to enter again without that.

I put my signatures on all the copies, But how do I get Ashwini's signatures as she is probably 4 hours away from the place. What if I forge her signature? Will they come to know about that? If I look at my own signatures, I really can't be sure that they are all really mine. It is so hard to get all the signatures look alike. Given that, why would they even want to verify those signatures when the original documents are in-front of them. I am not trying to sell anything to anyone. I am only trying to get a passport for my new born babies. Why would they really think I would indulge in some kind of shady business to get a passport for my babies. But, I am dealing with Indian government officials. There isn't much room for rational thinking here. So, I called up my wife. She said 'just sign on the copy. Legally they don't have any reason to complain as I don't have any complaints about the same'. That looked logical to me. Without a complaint from the person whose signature is forged, what can they really do. I checked with her again and she seemed quite confident about that. I forged her signature on the photo copies and went inside with a slight fear of doing something wrong.

I was sure it won't be smooth if I go to the same person. So, I waited for the right opportunity to submit my documents in a different counter. Luckily I observed that a lady also forged her husband's signature in-front of the officer and he just gave her a warning, but didn't reject the documents. So went to him, gave the token and submitted all the documents. Then he asked for the photo copies. I gave them too. But I realized I still had forgotten to put a signature in one of Ashwini's copies. How irresponsible I was! But it was too late. I looked at the officer. He was busy verifying my documents. I quickly forged her sign in the paper and passed it to him. But to my unluck, he was really intelligent! He checked the copy twice and yelled at me, 'this isn't your wife's signature'. Yes, I know that, but what other option had you left for me. I replied 'No, it is my wife's signature. All the signatures can't be similar. Look at my own signature in different forms. They don't look similar either'. There was confidence in my defence. 'Do you think I am a fool. I have seen you forging the signature in front of my eyes. I will take you to court in the forgery case. We do have security cameras that might have caught you red handed', he retorted back. There was more anger in his voice. 'By all means go to the court. That is my wife's signature. There is no need for me to forge when I have the original copy'. I thought there can't be a legal case after speaking to Ashwini. But looking at his anger and confidence, I wasn't really sure about that now. But I didn't think the security cameras will have enough clarity as to know whose signature I was putting. I wasn't even sure he will have the intention/time to take me to court. That gave me a dumb courage. He continued yelling at me framing me as fraud, an insult to the nation. I reminded him that he also accepted a similar forged document from the previous lady though she accepted that it was forged. That didn't make much difference. I continued my argument for a while. Realized that it is not going to take me anywhere. Then I started pleading. I explained him how difficult it is to manage two babies, how overly complicated this process really is, how difficult it would be to repeat the same process again. That didn't work either. Then I told him 'if you don't believe that it is really my wife's signature, I will go and get her signature again. It won't take more than an hour'. He wasn't ready to accept that either. 'You have already cheated once, I can't believe you. You have to come again. I am not giving you the token again' and he tore it off in-front of me. I was boiling with the anger and helplessness. But there was nothing I could have done to convince them. He would have been convinced if I was a good looking hindi speaking lady! If my scolding had any power, he wouldn't have been discharged from the hospital for few months!